More than thirty years ago I read a book about some European media/psychology people who had taken their expedition of Land Rovers to the remote Omo valley in southern Ethiopia, filmed the local Mursi people, set up a projector, played their film of the Mursi people back to the locals, and then filmed the resulting chaos as the Mursi saw themselves on film for the first time. For the life of me I cannot find this book on my bookshelves, and I have triple checked. An (ex) librarian like myself should not lose his own books. Maybe I dreamt it all. If it was a dream, then it was a very creative dream. But what an excellent idea the media people had.
At the time I joked to Lindsey, “We should take Brian Wilson’s surf music to those people. Imagine – they’ve never seen the ocean before, they’ve never heard surf music. What would they make of it?” It was a daft idea, and it came to nothing.
Then the opportunity arose to visit the Omo valley on our recent trip to Ethiopia to see Jamie. I remembered my idea from long ago, and said to Lindsey, “I’ll take surf music to the Mursi!”
“Don’t be daft, Roddy, the world has moved on. Half of them will probably have already watched Love & Mercy on their iPads by now.”
Anyway, from Addis we went on an 8-day trip to the Omo Valley, to Jinka, Turmi and Omorate (right down near Lake Turkana), with a company called Simien Image Tour & Travel. I was really impressed with the professionalism of Simien Image. We also used them for our other trip up north, and I’ll write more about them later. We teamed up with two well travelled Americans via the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum, which cut the cost a bit. It was a fantastic trip. It took two days to drive south, along good and sometimes not so good roads. The area will likely change in the near future, once the new airstrip at Jinka is completed.
We visited some very interesting places, the more remote towns having a definite frontier feeling. We saw people from various tribes, including the Ari, Banna, Daasenach, Hamar and Karo, and I’ll post about these later. Despite living in the same region, each group varies considerably in looks, clothes and character.
The 8,000 Mursi have a bit of a badass reputation and are famous for the lip-plates and ear-plugs worn by the women. We were told that it was best to visit them in the morning, before they started drinking, as by the afternoon anything can, and often does, happen, including the firing off of Kalashnikovs.
We almost didn’t make it to the Mursi village as the previous day there had been an accident involving a Mursi man falling off a truck, and the rumour was that they might attack approaching vehicles. We waited a day and heard that some other tourists had had no problems, so set off from Jinka early the next day, accompanied by an excellent half-Muris half-Ari guide.
The Mursi village was much more untidy than the other villages (Hamar, Karo and Daasenach) we visited – the Hamar village, by comparison, was spotless. There were hundreds of flies in the camp, and as soon as you arrive you are surrounded by children, dogs and noise. It was quite an intense experience and I hope to write about the psychology of photographing such people in a future post.
As for the surf music, I didn’t play any to the Mursi. I was more concerned about getting in and out of the village without incident. I did play some Cool, Cool Water outtakes to Alex, our driver, and he said he really liked them and wanted more. By that time I’d deleted most of the music from my phone in order to make more space for photographs.